When a 25-year-old, known just as Riyanto, entered the Eben Haezer Church of Pentecostal Assembly in East Java on Christmas Eve of 2000, he did not know that his life was about to end. He had been aware, however, of the risk he was taking by being there altogether, particularly on Christmas Eve. As a member of the Banser — the youth wing of Indonesia’s largest Muslim cultural organization, the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) — he had already made the choice to sacrifice personal safety to protect Christians from falling prey to radical Islamists.
Shortly after mass, as parishioners began to exit the Protestant house of worship, the reverend handed Riyanto and other guards at the entrance an unattended bag he had found among the pews. Looking inside the package and realizing that it contained a bomb, Riyanto took swift action. “Get down!” he called out to all those who were still inside the building.
But Riyanto himself did not duck. Instead, he clutched the explosive tightly to his chest, in an effort to prevent mass casualties. Within seconds, Riyanto was blown to bits.
Riyanto was one of four Banser members guarding the church in Mojokerto, a small town south of Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city. His name, like his heroic death, is hailed among moderates in the Muslim-majority country as a symbol of its credo of Bhineka Tunggal Ika (“Unity in Diversity”), which crosses all party and religious lines. His uniform is even on display at the NU Museum.
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